Beyond Categorical Thinking Worship Reflections

Oct 30, 2021 | Beacon, Members Only, News

To the 48 attendees of the Beyond Categorical Thinking (BCT) Workshop, the Ministerial Search Committee says THANK YOU! It was deeply moving and thought provoking for those who were able to attend. Amanda Schuber did an outstanding job of not shying away from tough conversations and listened lovingly to all we shared. We’ve gathered some feedback. Below you will find heartfelt reflections from six attendees.

“I learned a few things in the Beyond Categorical Thinking Workshop: How hard it is to imagine myself in a different category. A new slogan: when we know better, we do better. A new BIPOC minister that speaks to a BIPOC issue three times in a year is likely to be labeled a ‘one-issue’ minister by the dominant white culture. ESUC has a lot of work to do on this subject, can do it, and SILENCE in the face of microaggressions and the like is our Achilles heel. Progress toward the Beloved Community depends on learning how to ‘call people in’ and on speaking up when bad things happen.” -Paul Buehrens

“Beyond Categorical Thinking helped solidify my understanding that if a person is hired into a position based on their qualifications alone, that is all that should matter. Are they able to do the job required of them (with or without accommodations)? If they are the most qualified candidate, it shouldn’t matter what gender/age/race/ethnicity or ability they are or have. Each person brings their own unique gifts to the table that can even help make newcomers feel heard that would otherwise look us over. I think the biggest take-a-way of all was that we cannot be silent when we see microaggressions happen. This is the single biggest reason people leave churches who were minority ministers. If we practice calling in when we see this happen, we can create a culture of care for all.” -Signe Lalish-Menagh

“My recent participation in East Shore’s Beyond Categorical Thinking workshop, offered in conjunction with the congregation’s search for a new minister, was everything it was advertised to be and more. The facilitator, Amanda Schuber, was knowledgeable, engaging, open, non-threatening, and practical. Although I have read and attended many trainings during my legal and judicial career on topics of racism, diversity, cultural competence, inherent bias, white privilege, and social justice, I ALWAYS learn something new, especially about myself. This workshop was no exception. The participants’ questions, genuine openness, and engagement during the two sessions were heartfelt. Although we were on Zoom, we could observe the ‘a ha moments’ many of us experienced and expressed during our discussions. I was excited to leave status quo ideas of what a minister should look like and how they should be. I encourage all of us to open our minds to the possibilities, beyond our comfort zone categories, and envision the myriad qualities East Shore’s next minister could have. This next step in our growth as a Beloved Congregation is vital.” – Janet Garrow

“I felt so fortunate to have participated in our most recent Beyond Categorical Thinking. I went into it expecting to learn little new since I had participated in our last BCT workshop several years ago. I was reminded of the value of diversity and what ESUC might gain by having a minister who might be a little different than the straight, cis, white ministers we’ve had over the last few decades. What I was surprised by, though, was Amanda’s message that our next minister isn’t the most important factor in our growth and change, WE are. I learned this the first time towards the end of my Board Presidency when East Shore had no minister for nine months in 2015-16. I was blown away that year by the energy, commitment, passion, and creativity of our congregation and this workshop reminded me of why I love East Shore. The pandemic has left me somewhat distanced and emotionally exhausted, but I gained a renewed sense of hope and inspiration as Amanda reaffirmed our responsibility as a congregation to work towards the future we want. I can’t wait to see what we become!!!!” – Beth Wilson

“The exercise of imagination–imagine how different your life would have been had you been of another gender, orientation, race–was both provocative and revealing. Assumptions and stereotyping were laid bare and Amanda did a good job identifying them and gently suggesting how we might think more deeply about them. The workshop felt safe to explore our reactions with curiosity rather than defensiveness. I think calling on our imagination more will help us move towards developing a more dynamic, thoughtful vision for East Shore.” – Marilyn Mayers

“I was surprised to observe that only around 10% of the participants were male. What does this unbalanced representation mean? Following are some of the things I learned during the BCT sessions:

  • Silence drives ministers away. We need to overcome our silence.
  • We’re not as welcoming as we think.
  • We cause systemic micro aggressions.

Based upon the feedback provided by participants, sexism is alive and well in our congregation. Men override women, talk over them, and don’t empower them. Our facilitator stated that this came across as exceptionally problematic, as compared to her facilitating other BCT sessions over the past 20 years. As a 70+ year old male, I am part of the problem. How will I/we address and fix this?” – Dennis Fleck

As we digest the reflections from our sample of six, it’s important to emphasize their thoughts are uniquely theirs. Everyone who attended will have a distinct point of view. However, it’s clear some themes emerged from the Concerns and Benefits surveys we filled out prior to the workshop. Amanda used the surveys as a foundation for how she taught BCT. There are things we can all think about as we work towards settling a new minister at East Shore.

  • Minister is one person who will never be everything to everyone; WE are the ministry. The Church is the ministry.
  • Silence in the face of microaggressions is something to be aware of within ourselves. How can we better articulate when we hear things being said that do not serve a more expansive, diverse, future at East Shore?
  • Sexism is a part of our culture. This is something we are going to explore further in the coming months through partnership with the UUA.
  • As we look at increasing membership and attracting a more diverse representation of Bellevue and the Eastside, it’s up to us to fully understand that the “ministry” of ESUC is us. How will that change our approach to finding a minister?

We love this community of Unitarian Universalists and desire to see our church thrive! We deeply yearn for a settled minister who will collaborate with us in a shared ministry that leads us into the next chapter of our history. Together, we can use what we learned from the Beyond Categorical Thinking Workshop and make strides towards being a more visible beacon of liberal faith values on the Eastside and beyond!

by Leta Hamilton, Ministerial Search Committee